IPiB Thesis Defense February 19, 2024: Matthew Blackburn

 Matthew BlackburnMatthew Blackburn, an IPiB graduate student, will be defending his Ph.D. research on Feburary 19, 2024. His research in the Sussman Lab explores the three-dimensional structure and function of proton pumps – a class of transmembrane proteins – in plants.

A protein is more than the order of amino acids that make up its primary structure. Much of the function of a protein is determined by the folds and twists that determine its 3D structure, with some regions readily accessible to the cell’s environment and others hidden within the folds.

Blackburn’s research uses mass spectrometry, crystallography, and cryo-electron microscopy to reveal new information about the structure of transmembrane proteins in plants. His work has focused on the regulatory domain of proton pumps. This region contributes to the regulation of the electrochemical gradients required for many essential plant cellular processes, including cell elongation and responses to light and other stimuli.

His research has been published in Plant Physiology and Biochemistry.

Throughout his time in the IPiB program, Blackburn has thought about how to communicate about his research and scientific knowledge more broadly. When Blackburn describes his research to friends and family members, he often compares his research to those who study plants on a much larger scale. “I study a protein, and that can seem really specific or even confusing to someone who doesn’t know much about biochemistry. One way to think about research is that it’s like looking at a forest. Some people will study the whole forest and identify what kinds of trees are in the region. And other people will study a single species of tree and learn a lot about its role in the forest. That’s me – I’m a study-a-single-tree guy.”

Blackburn’s ability to find commonalities and describe complex research in nuanced yet accessible ways was recognized in 2022 when he was awarded the Denton Award for Graduate Student Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring from the Department of Biochemistry. He will also be including a chapter in his thesis written for non-scientists as part of his involvement with the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy (WISL).

After graduating, Blackburn will continue on as a postdoctoral researcher in the Sussman Lab.

To learn more about Blackburn’s research, attend his Ph.D. defense, “Structural Investigation of a Ubiquitous Proton Pump by Mass Spectrometry and Cryo-electron Microscopy,” on Monday, February 19 at 1:00 p.m. CT in Room 1211 of Hector F. DeLuca Biochemical Sciences Building.